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INTERVIEW with Latvian President: We need at least battalion-sized NATO units in each Baltic country

The newly inaugurated Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis gave an exclusive interview to ERR, discussing Latvian security issues, relations with Russia, the Greek crisis, refugees, and same-sex partnerships, among several other topics.

If a few years ago General Ants Laaneots, then head of the Estonian Defense Forces, said that the biggest problem with Estonia's defense is the lack of defense capability in Latvia because of limited defense spending, the situation has now improved, Vējonis said.

“Latvia has now completely changed its mind and security issues are very important for us. Last year, our Parliament adopted a special law for defense spending, meaning that it will reach 2 percent of our GDP by 2020. But this year, it was already decided that it will reach 2 percent of GDP by 2018,” he said, explaining that the increasingly tense security situation has created a need to invest in defense faster than initially planned.

Latvia has already developed a lot of new defense capabilities, infrastructure and cross-border cooperation.

“When we speak about the size of NATO troops in our region, I fully agree with our commanders of armed forces that we need at least a battalion-sized units in each Baltic country and also in Poland,” he added.

Speaking of relations with Russia, Vējonis said the whole EU and the world expect that one day the relations with their eastern neighbor will normalize. “But at present day such possibilities are very limited and in reality quite impossible. If one side, in this case Russia, continues to violate international regulations, international laws, and support separatists in Ukraine, with Crimea annexation and all, of course in such a situation good relations with Russia are impossible,” he said, adding that he believes that once the Ukraine crisis is solved, cold relations with Russia with thaw once again.

In regard to Greece, Vējonis said Latvia's experience shows that it is possible to make tough decisions and exit the crisis. “When we speak about Greece, we are sure that they must do it the same way,” he said, adding that what Greece is doing is not fair to other countries like Latvia and Estonia, who made very hard decisions during the financial crisis and cut down on government spending.

Editor: M. Oll

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